/ Dealing With Police at Festivals

Dealing With Police At A Festival

You can expect to see police at any festival you attend. Remember that they are there for your safety, but they are also there to do their job which is enforcing the law. Follow these steps and we can ensure that all of your interactions with the police are positive ones.

If you are NOT under the influence of any sort of substances, do the following:

Interact with the police: You’re not doing anything wrong, and the more people that remind the police that everyone at the festival are nice human beings, the better it is for everyone.

Compliment them: Cops love compliments. The better mood they are in, the better it is for everyone.

Ask questions: Do you have a question about our legal system? Ask a police officer. In my experience, they have always been very happy to answer since it breaks up their day of wandering around aimlessly.

Thank them: They have a tough job. Thank them for keeping you safe.
If you ARE under the influence of any sort of substances DO NOT, under any circumstance, communicate with police. Just go about your day and let the sober people handle the interactions.

Knowing Your “Festival Rights”
Knowing your rights is not only important at a festival, it’s important in your everyday life. Cameron Bowman, a.k.a. “The Festival Lawyer”, was nice enough to donate his time to bring you up to speed. Pay special attention to this chapter since you never know when you will need it.

By Cameron Bowman, a.k.a. “The Festival Lawyer” (@FestivalLawyer)

Hi everyone! My name is Cameron Bowman, a criminal defense attorney with VIB Law in California. You may know me better as “The Festival Lawyer.” I write a weekly legal advice column for festival goers entitled “Ask the Festival Lawyer” for Fest 300.

Tucker asked me to talk for a minute about what your rights are when dealing with law enforcement at music festivals.

At most festivals I attend, I routinely see cops high-fiving “festies” and FestivalGoers generally interacting in a positive way with security. As Tucker mentioned above, most of the time law enforcement is there just to keep the attendees safe.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Drug use is a reality at music festivals. How the festival you are going to chooses to handle that reality can have a big impact on your security experience.

Some festivals take a realistic approach to drug use at their event. They do their best to keep drugs out, but recognize the reality that some drug use will always be present. They therefore focus more on drug education and safety. For example, many festivals now allow groups like Dancesafe and Zendo Project on site and allow drug education and other so-called “Harm Reduction” measures at their fests.

On the other hand, a number of large festivals that experienced drug-related deaths at their events responded by dramatically increasingly their security. Many festivals (particularly large EDM festivals, but not always) take a fairly aggressive security approach to drugs known as a “Zero Tolerance” approach.

Personally, I think it’s obvious which side is right in this argument. After all, if they can’t keep drugs from getting into prisons, how can they keep them from getting into festivals?

In any event, it makes sense to prepare yourself in case you somehow have a negative encounter with security or law enforcement. Even at the most well-run festival, you might run into an unprofessional or overly-aggressive security guard, or a cop that’s is just having a bad day. That’s why it’s important to know what your rights and responsibilities are when it comes to security at an event.


Searches At The Festival Entrance
In general, you consent to a search upon entry into a festival. That means that you agree to be searched as a condition of your ticket. The legal theory is basically that no one is forcing you to go into the festival, and you could choose not to go. As long as you are notified of the search and the search is not too “invasive”, it is lawful.

That’s why the “terms and conditions” (as well as the signs at the entrances) always include a search clause. The law refers to this as an “Implied Consent” type of search. In other words, since you knew you were going to be searched but went anyway, it’s implied you agreed to be searched.

But a festival’s right to search you isn’t unlimited. Courts have held that festivals have a “vital interest” in looking for weapons on their attendees. (This makes sense, right? Everyone wants their festivals to be safe.)
But courts have held that when a search becomes too “invasive”, it might not be legal.

“Invasive” is basically legalese for “Wait, you were touching people where?” In other words, if a search becomes too intimate it might not be legal.
If security touches you inappropriately, probably the most important thing you can do is to calmly and immediately object. Be clear on why you are objecting. For example, “This search is inappropriate. I am asking for your manager to be called.” Try to stay calm. Make note of the individuals involved and complain directly to management. Give specific details of what happened.

Most festivals take these types of complaints seriously. They want their security to act in as professional a manner as you do. If a festival ignores your complaint, consider taking your case to social media. Trust me, if you can gather anyone else who had a similar bad experience and get #gropefest2017 trending, the fest is sure to sit up and take notice.

Searches Inside The Festival
But let’s say the worst happens and you get into a negative encounter with a cop. What are your rights when it comes to being stopped or searched?
This is actually not as simple as you might think. The law in this area can depend on what state your festival is in, whether or not it is a security guard or an actual police officer carrying out the search, and a whole lot of other things like who you are dealing with, and the exact circumstances of your situation.

But I started to realize that no matter your particular situation, you were better off memorizing a few simple “Fest Law” phrases to use if find yourself in a tight spot.

These phrases have the added advantage of being simple to remember, even if you are nervous or otherwise not “thinking clearly.” #youknowhatImean In fact, I put them on Festival Tip Cards and pass them out at fests.


Stay Calm: This is some of the best advice I can give. Being confronted by a cop can be super scary and intimidating. Do what you can to try to keep the situation from escalating by being polite and non-confrontational.

“Am I Being Detained?” The 4th Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures by the police”. In other words, an officer has to have a reason or justification for detaining or arresting you. Asking this legal question makes it clear that you are not there freely and are being detained. It also forces the officer to make an internal decision about whether or not there is a legal basis to detain you or whether to let you go.

“I’m not giving you consent to search my person or property.” If you ask the officer “Am I free to leave?” and are given any answer other than yes, you should assume you are being investigated for a crime and act accordingly. That includes refusing any and all requests for searches. It’s important to practice this second “Fest Law” phrase and have it ready. Officers will sometimes just immediately launch into conducting a search to see if you will object. Also, many times people have told me after the fact that they felt they were pressured into giving consent for a search. Be prepared. Expect to hear things like, “If you have nothing to hide, why can’t we search your stuff?” or other types of pressure from the officer. Never, under any circumstances, give consent to randomly have you or your property searched.

"I Don't Want to Give a Statement. I Want a Lawyer.” One of the most common urban myths out there is that the police have to read you your Miranda rights or the arrest will later get thrown out in court. The reality is that the police don’t have to read you these rights if you are merely being detained. That’s why it’s important on your own to make it clear you are not giving a statement and want representation.

Learn how to become a contributing member of the festival community by reading The FestivalGoer's Guide and have your best festival every time you go.